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Great Lakes Article:

Congressional forum focuses on need to protect Great Lakes
By Eric Fidler
The Associated Press
Published June 7, 2004

The time for studying the problems of the Great Lakes is over and it's time to act, members of Congress testified Monday at a congressional forum.

"We are long on studies and short on money, and I would like to reverse that order now," said Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill.

Emanuel and Rep. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., have introduced a bill that would authorize $4 billion a year for Great Lakes restoration projects.

Kirk said Lake Michigan faces a growing threat from mercury pollution, invasive species and polluted harbors. He called for stricter enforcement of the Clean Air Act to lessen pollution from coal-fired power plants, and dismissed the notion that sound environmental policy was bad for the economy.

"We know that economic development and environmental protection go hand in hand," he said.

The forum included six congressional members and was led by Rep. John Duncan, R-Tenn., chairman of the House Water Resources subcommittee.

Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, who started the Great Lakes Cities Initiative to foster cooperation among cities along the lakes, told the panel the federal government needs to coordinate its policy for the lakes instead of spreading it among multiple agencies.

President Bush last month named a 10-member Cabinet-level task force to coordinate Great Lakes cleanup efforts among states, federal agencies and Canada.

The General Accounting Office last year found that 33 federal and 17 state programs spent more than $1.7 billion on environmental restoration of the Great Lakes, but the efforts were uncoordinated and the results difficult to measure. A report by the new task force on cleanup coordination is due next spring.

While Daley and the members of the panel praised Bush for paying attention to the lakes, they said he has cut funding for programs to help with water and sewer projects and that another study and report is unnecessary.

"This issue has been studied to death," said Rep. Jerry Costello, D-Ill.

Daley said the recent dumping into Lake Michigan and its tributaries of billions of gallons of raw sewage by Milwaukee and nearby towns was an example of why an overall lakes plan is needed.

"That's a lot of garbage. It's going to float down here," Daley said.

The Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District and six nearby communities reported dumping 4.6 billion gallons of untreated wastewater last month.

Tom Skinner, regional EPA director, said science has not proven that Milwaukee's sewage causes beach closures in Chicago. But he said Milwaukee could be fined for its action.

He said, however, that political pressure was more likely to bring change than financial penalties.


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